It has been a strange and sometimes difficult journey for the various characters in our story. That’s a bit of a cliché but it’s not untrue at this point. For anyone who has survived it to this point, that has happened either one of two ways: thanks to their wits or thanks to their friends. And for most, it’s been thanks to the second as even the smartest players have found themselves at the mercy of luck or of forces greater than they could oppose. It’s the ability to find common ground with people who may have opposed you, who may still be set against your goals, that has given each and every one of the survivors of the game of thrones the opportunity to still be breathing and trying to challenge for their goals.
For the various members of the group ranging beyond the gates of Eastwatch by the Sea, they were all brought together by different means — and some have been enemies at one point or another. It was Sandor Clegane who dealt Ser Beric Dondarrion one of the six deaths from which Thoros of Myr has returned him. Now the three march together as members of the Brotherhood Without Banners, sent this way by a vision The Hound had in Thoros’ flames of a mountain shaped like an arrowhead. The very same Brotherhood also sold Gendry to Melisandre when all he wanted to do was be one of them. Instead, he was used for his king’s blood in the Red Priestess’ rituals and may have been doomed but for the interjection by Ser Davos Seaworth. Now he marches with the same men though he continues to hold a grudge against them. In a similar way, Tormund Giantsbane marches alongside Ser Jorah Mormont, the son of the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who was such a pain on the wildlings’ side.
Jorah is there because of the allegiance and love he has for his queen, Daenerys Targaryen. But the march brings him alongside another man who saw a worthwhile father figure in the Old Bear, Jon Snow. Ever the noble figure, Jon agree to return his Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw, back to Mormont — returning House Mormont’s ancient sword back to its rightful house. But Mormont knows he lost all right to it when he fled and that his father found someone worthy when he gave it to the new King in the North. But that may not be all the erstwhile knight might have lost to the Bastard of Winterfell.
Down on Dragonstone, Tyrion sets to the task of trying to convince Daenerys that there may be a different way to rule than through fear or intimidation. This is what he promised Varys he would do. After all, if Dany is to win allies to her cause, then she needs to find ways to bring them to her side that don’t involve the terror of dying by dragonfire. So he tries to talk to her of a vision grander than the immediate concerns; of succession and of a way to ensure the work of Daenerys, the Breaker of Chains, isn’t undone after her passing. Dany, though, is having none of it. There is some mistrust of her Queen’s Hand due to her recent losses and to the heritage that Tyrion inevitably brings due to his family. That said, he does speak to a kernel of truth in regards to the growing sentiment between the Dragon Queen and the King in the North. Perhaps it may turn into an alliance; perhaps into something more. Invariably, it seems the heart and head of Daenerys Stormborn are less with her Hand and more with her rival to the North.
Back in the North, Jon’s sisters are finding their familial bonds are not enough to survive the scheming of Littlefinger. Having found Sansa’s letter to Robb in which she denounced her father as a traitor, it doesn’t take much for the animosity the younger Stark sister had towards the Lannisters to swing to her older sister. All their old rivalries and childish errors take on a darker, more sinister tone. Sansa sees no choice but to turn to Littlefinger and ask for his advice — and he tells her to seek out Brienne of Tarth for protection against her sister. Sansa listens to it and then opts to send Brienne south to the meeting being set by Cersei and Daenerys. Was it a wise move? A means of finding out what move Littlefinger had and then trying to beat it? Or was it a foolish move? It appears so when Sansa finds the bag with the faces in Arya’s room and comes face to face — pardon the pun — with the assassin trained by a death cult and not her younger sister. The moment makes it clear to Sansa that she may no longer be dealing with little Arya Underfoot but with someone far more dangerous. Her sister may not be seeing her as anything but an enemy any more.
In terms of danger though, nothing compares to when the party finds and captures a wight. During the battle, Jon uses Longclaw to kill the white walker and the wights that follow it shatter and lose their magic. Does that meant that the massive Army of the Dead has a weakness? That they need not fight all the foot soldiers as long as they can kill the masters? They don’t have time to ponder these thoughts as the rest of the army descends upon them and traps them on a tiny island in the middle of a frozen lake. The ranging and their battles cost them dearly — the bulk of the Brotherhood Without Banners falls, including Thoros of Myr. His death a stark warning to the others that they don’t have the means to be brought back from the dead as Beric and Jon have in the past.
Forced to fight for their survival and their mission, the remaining warriors try to hold out until Daenerys shows up with her dragons to rescue them — and she does thanks to Gendry’s timely arrival back at Eastwatch. The dragons prove more than a match for the chattel of dead and rotten flesh that is assaulting their mother’s warriors. But even they prove weak to the magic of the White Walkers. With one lance, the Night King brings down Viseryon and kills it. The loss of one of her children momentarily stunning Dany and everyone around her and causing them to flee in panic, leaving Jon behind as he’s dragged into the icy lake. His ultimate survival is a result of the sacrifice of his old uncle, Benjen Stark, who arrives in the nick of time to save him from the wights before he’s torn apart. The man who brought him into the Night’s Watch, whose fate had driven Jon for so long, arrives to save him and they don’t have the time to say but a few words.
Much is made of the bond made by warriors in times of battle. With good reason. To trust in one another when a lack of trust means death brings a heavy burden. Throughout their ordeal, all the warriors’ mistrust fell away because it had to. Thoros gave his life protecting Sandor Clegane from an undead bear on fire. When Jorah Mormont nearly fell off Drogon’s back, it was Tormund who lunged for him and ensured he survived. While Dany’s trust for Tyrion fell, she found a deeper trust for Jon Snow, who finally agreed to bend the knee and swear fealty to her. It is one thing to swear loyalty when things are easy. It’s another to have to live up to it when the enemy is all around you and death is but a moment’s breath away.
But even as Dany’s and Jon’s side gained the proof they so desperately needed to try and convince Cersei Lannister of the truth, so did the Night King gain something powerful in return. Using his army, he drags the remains of Viseryon out of the lake and reanimates the dead dragon into his servant. How will the Mother of Dragons deal with seeing one of her children riding against her? Destroying her friends and aiding her enemies? In what way will this shift in power make the White Walkers’ quest easier?
As we head into the season’s end, only questions are being found.